The consensus around these parts seems to be that the only important thing missing in the fancy new home of the College World Series was a team from LSU.
This year’s CWS, which concluded Tuesday night in Omaha, Neb., was the official coming-out party for the $130 million TD Ameritrade Park, which replaced venerable Rosenblatt Stadium, site of the CWS for the past 61 years.
“It’s very, very similar to Alex Box being replaced by the new Alex Box,” former LSU baseball coach and athletic director Skip Bertman said. “People from the old Rosenblatt came prepared to see the new TD Ameritrade Park, looking for something they wouldn’t like, but they just couldn’t find it.”
LSU fan Chris Guillot said he didn’t know what to expect from the new place as he made his 23rd consecutive trip to the CWS. But he came away saying, “I went from a model-T to a four-door Jaguar or a Bentley.”
Guillot’s destination this trip was downtown Omaha, where the new ballpark opened in April just a few miles from Rosenblatt.
“I was leery about the atmosphere, that it was going to be all corporate America, suit and tie,” Guillot said. “But it was laid back.
“That made my day. Sometimes you eat at a dive, then you go eat at a suit-and-tie place and there are eight forks instead of two. It wasn’t like that. The atmosphere blew my mind. I felt warm and fuzzy.”
LSU baseball fans have felt warm and fuzzy at the CWS for 25 years, and they have returned the favor to the people of Omaha. Many Tigers fans make the trip to Omaha annually, regardless of whether their baseball team is there, which it hasn’t been for the two seasons since its most recent championship in 2009.
Mike Serio, a New Orleans restaurateur, went to Omaha for LSU’s nine trips between 1989-2000, and has gone every year since his first non-Tigers visit in 2001.
“There were hardly any traffic jams,” Serio said. “At the old place, you had to go around so much traffic. At the new place, they have all kinds of access routes. You can get in and out very easily.”
Guillot said parking is plentiful and at $10 is cheaper than it was at Rosenblatt.
“The only losers,” Bertman quipped, “are the people who lived across the street from Rosenblatt and charged $20 to park there.”
Tickets were also affordable.
“I walked up to the window and seats in the lower section were available, and they were just $22-$28,” Guillot said. “They’re good seats.”
And, Bertman said, the seats are wider, as is the space between the seats.
Bertman, Guillot and Serio gave the new ballpark the highest mark for what Serio called the “creature comforts.”
“When you go to the concession stand, you can watch the game,” Guillot said. “When your back is turned to the field, there are TVs all over. Then you turn back around and watch the game live. There are tables where you can sit and eat while you watch the game.”
A larger kitchen area has allowed for a larger and more exotic menu.
“They have sushi, barbecue, pizza, Greek, Lebanese — anything you can think of — desserts too,” Guillot said. “They also have regular ballpark food, and it’s out of this world.
“The pricing on the concessions was impressive. It was just like at LSU or a little less.”
The bathrooms are larger, clean, and feature a radio broadcast of the game in progress.
“I didn’t miss a pitch,” Guillot said.
Guillot said rooms at the team hotel were $200 a night compared to $250-$300 near Rosenblatt. Bertman said a boom in construction of hotels and restaurants near the new stadium is expected to continue.
Both Serio and Guillot had quibbles with the scoreboard in right field. Guillot said the Rosenblatt scoreboard had more information, such as the speed of the pitches. Serio said it was awkward sitting on the first-base side.
“You have to turn to your left to see home plate,” he said. “Then to look at the scoreboard, you’ve got to turn 180 degrees all the way to the right, because the scoreboard is tucked over in the corner in right field.”
But both said the scoreboard issues are correctable.
Bertman said the only complaint he heard from players came from hitters who said it was too hard to hit a home run to center field (408 feet from home plate), especially with the new bats being used this season. But the pitchers no doubt were just fine with that.
Umpires had a hard time judging whether fly balls were home runs when they hit the three-foot space between the yellow home-run marker and the top of the wall. But Bertman said he suspects instant replay might be added next year for clarification purposes.
“I think the players, the umpires, the NCAA and the Omaha host committee are all very, very happy with the outcome of the first College World Series there,” Bertman said.
Though everyone agreed it wasn’t the same without LSU, the Tiger fans were able to find a rooting interest with Vanderbilt, Florida, and South Carolina representing the Southeastern Conference.
“Everybody was yelling for Vanderbilt. Everybody was yelling for Florida. Everybody was yelling for South Carolina,” Guillot said. “We wanted to prove that we have the best conference of all.”
Eventually, the Gamecocks won their second consecutive title by beating the Gators in back-to-back games, but while the championship was being contested, Guillot said there was no need to choose sides in the final.
“The point had already been made,” he said.
Any critique from an LSU fan is bound to include a connoisseur’s take on the tailgating. Guillot said there was plenty of tailgating room near the stadium, including some tree-lined rows. But Serio was unable to get his traditional spot “where the first-base line and right-field meet.” The lots in that area were apparently reserved for longtime season-ticket holders, leaving Serio feeling “isolated.”
But that likely can be fixed as well.
“Like we needed a new Alex Box, the CWS needed a new Rosenblatt, and they have a gem,” Serio said. “I just need to find a better tailgate spot.”
While the folks in Omaha iron out a few wrinkles, Guillot is confident LSU coach Paul Mainieri will iron out a few as well.
“If I had a dollar for every time somebody asked, ‘Where’s your team?’ or ‘Why aren’t they here?’ you and I could both retire,” Guillot said. “I just told them, it’s baseball. We’ll see you next year.
“Mainieri will put us on the plane next year.”